By Stephanie Zacharek
January 18, 2018

The most thrilling elements of Nicolai Fuglsig’s based-on-real-events war drama 12 Strong are, in ascending order, Chris Hemsworth, Michael Peña, Michael Shannon and horses. If you have an affinity for any or all of those things, the movie is at least tolerable.

But it’s hard to shake the feeling that 12 Strong–based on Doug Stanton’s 2009 book Horse Soldiers, about U.S. Special Forces troops who traveled to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 to confront Taliban forces–should add up to more than it does. Hemsworth, stalwart as always, plays Captain Mitch Nelson, who leads a group of men–among them Shannon’s Hal Spencer and Peña’s Sam Diller–to one of the world’s most unforgiving landscapes to fight an enemy about whom they know very little. The big surprise is that they’ll have to do so on horseback, joining a loosely knit alliance of local anti-Taliban warriors. (Their leader, Abdul Rashid Dostum, is played by Homeland‘s Navid Negahban.)

In the best scene, Hemsworth instructs his men, equine neophytes, in the fine art of mounting a horse and making it go forward. Otherwise, the finest moments of 12 Strong belong to either the characteristically intense Shannon or the ever-likable Peña, or both. In the end, the feat these characters pull off is rousing, but 12 Strong never gathers the momentum it needs. The horses are still something to look at, though. If only they had a better movie in which to prance, run and whinny.

This appears in the January 29, 2018 issue of TIME.

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